Court reinstates lawsuit against Catholic hospital for refusing transgender patient’s surgery

Los Angeles Times

Michael Hiltzik

Stating that California’s interest in fighting discrimination against LGBTQ residents outweighs the right to impose religious standards on healthcare, an appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit against the Catholic Dignity Health hospital chain for barring a hysterectomy for a transgender patient.

The lawsuit was brought by Evan Minton, whose hysterectomy was abruptly canceled by Dignity’s Mercy San Juan Medical Center of Carmichael, Calif., in 2016 when hospital officials learned he was transgender. The hospital took the action to comply with the church’s Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which prohibit sterilization procedures except in very narrow circumstances. . . [Full text]

The Role of Nurses When Patients Decide to End Their Lives

Some hospitals and hospices have policies that forbid nurses to be part of the process or even to discuss end-of-life options.

New York Times

Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi

When Ben Wald, 75, was dying of cancer in 2012, he wanted to use Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act to receive a prescription for a lethal medication that would end his life. His hospice nurse, Linda, was part of the discussion and provided both information and support, said his wife, Pam Wald, of Kings Valley, Ore.

His colon cancer had spread to his lungs, and his weight dropped from 180 to 118 pounds. He struggled to speak or eat.

When he was ready to end his life, the couple wanted Linda with them, but the hospice organization she worked for did not allow it, Mrs. Wald said. The organization allowed other hospice workers, such as social workers and massage therapists, to be present, but not the doctors or nurses it employed. . . [Full text]

Doctor Fired after Suing Catholic Hospital over Assisted Suicide

National Review

Wesley J. Smith

Colorado doctor Barbara Morris wants to assist her patient’s suicide. She works at Centura Health, a Catholic/Seventh Day Adventist-owned hospital that prohibits its employees from participating in assisted suicide, legal in Colorado.

Morris sued to be allowed to participate in her patient’s suicide by doctor — which would not happen in the hospital. The hospital responded by firing Morris for violating the terms of her contract by seeking to engage in acts in the context of her employment that violate the hospital’s religiously based moral beliefs.

Morris contends she can’t be prohibited from assisting her patient’s suicide because the Colorado law only allows health care facilities to opt-out if the suicide will occur on-site. The hospital is seeking shelter in the Trump administration’s medical conscience protection policies.

Expect more of these kinds of disputes as many U.S. hospitals are Catholic or otherwise religiously affiliated with churches that reject abortion and assisted suicide doctrinally. From the Kaiser Health News story:

More doctors and patients in the country are providing and receiving health care subject to religious restrictions. About 1 in 6 acute care beds nationally is in a hospital that is Catholic-owned or -affiliated, said Lois Uttley, a program director for the consumer advocacy group Community Catalyst. In Colorado, one-third of the state’s hospitals operate under Catholic guidelines.

The ACLU has already sued several Catholic hospitals over the last few years seeking to force them to violate Church doctrine on issues ranging from sterilization, to abortion, to sex-change surgeries.

Medical conscience disputes are going to become far more common as health care becomes immersed in our accelerating cultural conflicts and vexing questions of federalism. Bottom line: The ultimate goal of those who seek to force medical professionals and institutions to violate their religious beliefs, I believe, is to drive pro-lifers and Hippocratic Oath-adherents out of medicine.

Firing Doctor, Christian Hospital Sets Off National Challenge To Aid-In-Dying Laws

Kaiser Health News

JoNel  Aleccia

DENVER — A Christian-run health system in Colorado has fired a veteran doctor who went to court to fight for the right of her patient to use the state’s medical aid-in-dying law, citing religious doctrine that describes “assisted suicide” as “intrinsically evil.”

Centura Health Corp. this week abruptly terminated Dr. Barbara Morris, 65, a geriatrician with 40 years of experience, who had planned to help her patient, Cornelius “Neil” Mahoney, 64, end his life at his home. Mahoney, who has terminal cancer, is eligible to use the state’s law, overwhelmingly approved by Colorado voters in 2016.

The growing number of state aid-in-dying provisions are increasingly coming into conflict with the precepts of faith-based hospitals, which oppose the practice on religious grounds. . . [Full text]

After Months In A Dish, Lab-Grown Minibrains Start Making ‘Brain Waves’

National Public Radio

Jon Hamilton

By the time a fetus is 6 months old, it is producing electrical signals recognizable as brain waves.

And clusters of lab-grown human brain cells known as organoids seem to follow a similar schedule, researchers reported Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

“After these organoids are in that six-to-nine-months range, that’s when [the electrical patterns] start to look a lot like what you’d see with a preterm infant,” says Alysson Muotri, director of the stem cell program at the University of California, San Diego. . . [Full text]

OCR Issues Notice of Violation to the University of Vermont Medical Center After It Unlawfully Forced a Nurse to Assist in Abortion

News Release
For immediate release

US Department of Health and Human Services

Contact: HHS Press Office
202-690-6343
media@hhs.gov

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is announcing that, after a thorough investigation and prolonged attempts to resolve the matter, OCR has issued a Notice of Violation letter finding that the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) violated the Church Amendments (42 U.S.C. 300a-7) by forcing a nurse to assist in an elective abortion procedure over the nurse’s conscience-based objections. OCR also found that UVMMC has discriminatory policies that assign or require employees to assist abortion procedures even after they have recorded their religious or moral objections to assisting in the performance of such abortions. OCR’s Notice of Violation letter asks UVMMC to conform its policies to the Church Amendments and take other corrective action, or face potential action by the HHS component from which UVMMC has received federal funding.

On May 9, 2018, a nurse at UVMMC filed a conscience and religious discrimination complaint with OCR against UVMMC, a medical center in Burlington, Vermont that receives HHS funds, contending that the nurse was forced to assist an abortion in violation of the nurse’s conscience rights. As part of its investigation, OCR contacted UVMMC repeatedly in a good faith effort to seek cooperation from UVMMC, but the hospital refused to conform its policies to federal conscience laws, provide all the documents requested by OCR, or produce witnesses for OCR interviews. Nevertheless, OCR interviewed multiple witnesses and gathered evidence concerning the allegations.

As a result of its investigation, OCR has specifically determined that:

  • UVMMC forced the nurse complainant to assist in an abortion against the nurse’s religious or moral objection. The nurse had expressed an objection for many years and was included in a list of objectors, but UVMMC knowingly assigned the nurse to an abortion procedure. The nurse was not told the procedure was an abortion until the nurse walked into the room, when the doctor—knowing the nurse objected to assisting in abortions—told the nurse, “Don’t hate me.” The nurse again objected, and other staff were present who could have taken the nurse’s place, but the nurse was required to assist with the abortion anyway. If the nurse had not done so, the nurse reasonably feared UVMMC would fire or report the nurse to licensing authorities.
  • OCR spoke with several other UVMMC health care personnel who, since at least the spring of 2017, have been intentionally, unnecessarily, and knowingly scheduled by UVMMC to assist with elective abortions against their religious or moral objections. Such personnel were often not told in advance that the procedures they were being assigned to assist with were abortions. Health care personnel who are coerced in that way suffer moral injury, are subjected to a crisis of conscience, and frequently experience significant emotional distress, even if they succeed in declining to assist in the procedure after the assignment is made.
  • UVMMC maintains a staffing policy that facially violates the Church Amendments because the policy admits to circumstances where UVMMC can and will force staff—on pain of adverse action or discipline—to participate in abortions against their moral or religious objections. The policy also violates UVMMC’s agreement, as a condition of receiving HHS funds, to comply with federal law, including the Church Amendments and HHS’s grants regulations.
  • Consequently, UVMMC is violating 42 U.S.C. § 300a-7(c)(1) of the Church Amendments by discriminating against health-care personnel who have religious or moral objections to abortion, and subjecting them to different terms or conditions of employment than other health-care personnel.

In the Notice of Violation, OCR asks that UVMMC notify OCR within thirty days whether UVMMC intends to work collaboratively with OCR to change its policies so it no longer requires health care personnel to participate in abortion against their religious or moral objections, and to take immediate steps to remedy the effect of its past discriminatory conduct. Otherwise, OCR indicates that it will forward the Notice to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a component of HHS that provides grant funds to UVMMC, for consideration and possible additional procedures concerning UVMMC’s receipt of federal funds.  Since October 1998, UVMMC has received—and continues to receive—grants from HRSA.  For the most recently completed three-year project period, which ended April 30, 2018, UVMMC reported that it cumulatively expended $1.6 million of federal financial assistance.

Roger Severino, Director of OCR said, “Forcing medical staff to assist in the taking of human life inflicts a moral injury on them that is not only unnecessary and wrong, it violates longstanding federal law. Our investigation has uncovered serious discrimination by UVMMC against nurses and staff who cannot, in good conscience, assist in elective abortions.”  Severino concluded, “We stand ready to assist UVMMC in changing its policies and procedures to respect conscience rights and remedy the effects of its discrimination.” 

OCR is charged with helping ensure entities come into compliance with federal laws protecting conscience and prohibiting coercion in health care, including the Church Amendments.

ACLJ Vindicates Rights of Vermont Nurse Who Was Unlawfully Forced to Participate in Abortion – HHS Threatens to Pull Medical Center Funding

American Center for Law and Justice

Reproduced with permission

Jay Sekulow*

The ACLJ applauds today’s announcement by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding a Complaint we filed on behalf of a Vermont nurse who was forced into participating in an abortion procedure against her deeply held religious beliefs.

In our Complaint, we alleged that our client, an operating room nurse at the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) in Burlington, was coerced into assisting in an abortion in 2017 even though her name was on a list of nurses who, for religious or moral reasons, were conscientiously opposed to such participation and even though other non-objecting nurses were available who could easily have taken her place.

In the more than two decades of work that ACLJ has done to defend the rights of conscience of pro-life health care workers, this is by far the most outrageous case we’ve ever seen. Our client’s most fundamental beliefs about the sanctity of life were simply brushed aside.

Worse, her superiors deliberately misled her into thinking she was assisting in a procedure following a miscarriage. But once trapped inside the OR she discovered that it was, in fact, an elective abortion and that this had been known all along by her superiors who then callously refused to relieve her. To say that she was emotionally traumatized by this event is putting it mildly.

At least four other nurses at UVMMC have confirmed that they too have been subjected to similar violations of their conscience rights. We forwarded them to OCR as part of our Complaint. And after conducting its own thorough investigation of the matter, OCR has substantiated their allegations.

In its announcement, HHS finds that UVMMC has committed violations of the federal Church Amendment – the so-called “conscience clause” – named for the late liberal Idaho Democratic Senator Frank Church. The law was enacted in 1973 as a response to the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade. In general, it prohibits entities that receive federal funding from discriminating against employees who refuse to perform or assist in the performance of abortions because of their moral or religious beliefs.

But, because the Church Amendment has always lacked a mechanism for enforcement by private citizens, its enforcement has depended on action taken by HHS itself. In the decades since 1973, however, such enforcement has, for all intents and purposes, been nonexistent. With today’s announcement, HHS’s Office of Civil Rights has, at long last, put teeth in a law that has lain largely dormant since its enactment.

HHS has given UVMMC 30 days to come up with a policy that will ensure that the things that happened to our client, and others like her, will not happen again. If they fail to cooperate, they lose their federal funding.

This action by HHS is an enormous step forward toward the full protection of conscience rights of all those in the health care field who recognize the sanctity of all human life. The repercussions of today’s action will be felt in every hospital and health care system in the country.

No longer should pro-life health care professionals have to fear that their values – the values of protecting, not, destroying, life – make them somehow unfit or unsuitable for the healing profession. No nurses, doctors, or other health workers should ever be deliberately trapped in a room and forced to participate in something that their employer knows those workers consider abhorrent at the core of their being.

For over two decades the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has been at the forefront of advancing and defending the right of free speech and conscientious objection when it comes to the sanctity of human life. In addition to our work with legislators and public policy makers in Washington and around the country, we have also represented dozens of individuals – women and men on the front lines of the pro-life cause – who have found themselves discriminated against because of their pro-life stands. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care workers – we’ve gone to court for them before judges and juries from Maine to Hawaii and most points in between.

The ACLJ very much welcomes HHS’s vigorous enforcement of federal conscience rights in this case. No health care worker should be forced to abandon their career because they refuse to abandon their pro-life convictions. If you are a healthcare worker and have experienced a similar situation, please contact us at ACLJ.org/HELP.

Courts hear conscience arguments of pro-life health-care staffers

Even Supreme Court agreed doctors have ‘the right to refrain from abortion’

WND

WND staff

A “conscience rights” rule implemented by the Trump administration that exempts physicians from providing “treatments” that violate religious faith such as abortion has been challenged by lawsuits in New York and California.

CNBC reported the city of San Francisco sued after alleging people could be deprived of health care treatments such as “assisted suicide” because of someone else’s beliefs. . . [Full Text]

Bergenfield Doctor’s Lawsuit Halts NJ Physician-Assisted Suicide Act

Jewish Link

Bracha Schwartz

Rabbi Yosef P. Glassman, MD, of Bergenfield, has won a lawsuit to temporarily stop the New Jersey Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act that had been scheduled to take effect on August 16. The law would allow physicians, under certain conditions, to prescribe drugs to terminally ill patients for the sole purpose of ending their lives. But the battle has just begun.

In an email interview, Rabbi Dr. Glassman explained why he initiated the lawsuit. “I was motivated to act by the chilling prospect of being a part of the suicide process, which strongly conflicted with both my professional and religious values. I was fortunate enough to engage in meaningful discussions with several concerned Jewish community members on the topic, and I decided to take a firm position, being involved in the field of geriatrics. Some people who may oppose my action may say that I want dying patients to suffer, chas v’shalom. Quite the opposite—we as physicians have ample tools to alleviate the suffering for the living, even for the terminally ill, without the need to license suicide.” . . . [Full text]

Spanish and US scientists go to China to create human-monkey chimeras

BioEdge

Michael Cook

In a stunning example of evading ethical controversy by exporting it, Spanish and American researchers have created monkey-human chimeras in China. The hybrid embryos will be destroyed after they develop a central nervous system and will not be brought to term. . . [Full text]